We took Friday off work and went backpacking along the north rim of Yosemite Valley. This was one of the trips that we’d planned back in January. While climbing up from the trailhead at Big Oak Flat Road, I realized that this summer marks 25 years backpacking. It’s a hobby that’s here to stay.
We did the drive Thursday night and had an extended dinner at Priest Station. Camp at Crane Flat is remembered because a thunderstorm had clearly unleashed a torrent not long before we arrived.
After permit pickup at the wilderness office in the valley, and the rigamarole of coffee, bathroom, parking, packing and shuttle, we hitch hiked very easily with a brother and sister. He was heading to work outdoor education in Marin.
We split our hike into three perfectly even days. Night one on El Capitan. Night two on North Dome. Backpacking the north rim is all about the iconic, epic, views of the cliffs of Yosemite.
The trip felt marked by Half Dome. We were always walking closer to it. I also felt a strong sense that Yosemite was a bit smaller than I’d thought it to be. I could see a good bit of the park. Places I’d been. And they didn’t look far away.
At both campsites, I felt encroached upon by foreign tourists. An Italian and a German choosing to camp forty feet away the first night. A troop of Chinese photographers that night hiked in and set up tripods the same distance from my sleep spot the second night. Sure, these are famous places. But there was plenty of space and they were needlessly close. American wilderness ethics, and LNT, are not widely engrained.
We saw a bear. A small, light colored yearling running away. We summited Eagle Peak and I detoured to Yosemite Falls. Between the famous locales, the trail was mostly quiet. For being the north rim traverse of Yosemite’s famous valley, it seemed like it was a hike that’s somewhat rarely done.
The stream before North Dome wasn’t running and since we were dry camping, I walked back twenty minutes to gather two gallons from the creek before it.
After the big descent down the rim along Snow Creek, we lunched at Curry Village and swam in the Merced. All in all, a wonderful trip.
Storms were hitting the Sierra Nevada but farther north was dry so that’s where we headed for Memorial Day weekend.
I’ve taken to watching hashtags of place names for conditions reports. Before the weekend, two people had posted recent photos of the high country. After the weekend, dozens and dozens of photos went up. Summer has started.
As it tends to happen, we had a great time in the mountains. I’m more relaxed and all ready to go back. This felt like a good kick off to another hiking season.
The trailhead at Big Flat is a long way out. Nearly three hours from Redding. Once we left Highway 3, it was a solid hour down Coffee Creek Road, more than half of that on dirt.
The Caribou Lakes are popular. We shared the basin with probably 15 other groups. Lindsey and I made camp high up and away from most of them and had a great view. We stayed two nights. Sunday sent us exploring and finally up the pretty steep snow to Sawtooth Ridge. We’d considered dropping down and looping around to Big Flat but opted-out. The view down the Stuart Fork and across to the mountains all around was fantastic.
Other things? We read issues of the New Yorker. Ate dinner late. Nipped some bourbon. Talked about all of the campers below.
The Trinity Alps have a fantastic conditions report that’s stewarded by the Wilderness lead. You can see it on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest homepage. It talked about the severely limited trail maintenance dollars in the area. I did a bit to help the situation on my way out by clearing hundreds of sticks and stones, a few trees and fixing drainage issues. It made for a fun day. We also split off the main route and hiked the Caribou Gulch trail down. As expected, it needed even more repair but was still very passable and a nice way to go.
A big crew of us left after work for a Friday night sub-24 hour backpacking trip. I’ve been wanting a trip like this for a long time.
We hiked the five miles in the dark – no headlamps. Had a camp fire. Whiskey. Stayed up late. Crawled into bed under huge oak trees.
Saturday, most of us packed up and headed out early. A few stayed – and reported river otters.
I didn’t take any photos. I hardly brought gear. Bag, pad, two burritos and not much else.
It was a great time with good friends.
I saw WILD, the movie, as part of a pre-release screening last Friday. I loved it.
Already in SF, I headed over to Dani’s house to ride with him up to Lake Tahoe. We made it before I fell asleep.
Saturday, we met Kyle and Simone at Meeks Bay, left a car and drove to Echo Lake. We’d walk the thirty some-odd miles between the two over the next day and a half.
We slept at Fontanillis Lake, up high in the rocks, after a long day of walking.
The cabins on Echo Lake really are special. Those that own them are incredibly fortunate. Lake Aloha on the other hand was at its most depressing. Come fall, it’s always low, showing bathtub ring lines, stained rock and dirt. I’m not sure if it was especially dried up because of the drought, or if it’s sorry state was nothing unusual.
I’d only ever crossed Dicks Pass on my PCT hike. That day it was one of the scariest ice sheets of my hike. This weekend there was just a dusting of snow from a recent October storm. Still, I was surprised at how steep the north side of the pass was. I imagine that it’s always a challenge when it’s covered in snow.
We left the PCT just south of Middle Velma Lake. We’d thought of going all the way to Barker Pass (or crazily, to Donner Pass) but a shorter trip was still more than plenty walking. Leaving via Phipps Pass was a perfect choice. The views, especially south of Phipps Peak looking back toward where we came from, were great. It really gave me the feeling of having walked across all of Desolation even though we technically didn’t.